Wednesday, November 22, 2006

When The Fur Flies

One of the things most interesting about yesterday’s post was the lively discussion in the comments. We have our moderates, we have those who’ll argue to preserve freedom of speech/expression at all costs.

And there’s no doubt that this is a pertinent topic today, in light of the recent uproar over the planned, then scrapped, book by OJ Simpson If I Did It. Steve Clackson took the opportunity to poke fun at some of the biggest celebrity scandals of late, with some priceless covers of books you won’t be seeing in stores.

In truth, the foundation of the debate is a pertinent one of late. Many people slammed Mel Gibson for his outburst during his arrest. I’d missed Michael Richards’ stand-up routine but thanks to cell phone video cameras and the internet am now up to speed on his use of racial slurs onstage.

Thing is, I find myself wondering about all of this. If someone says something offensive and we slam them, are we not opposing freedom of speech? If someone makes an art display and we oppose it, is it the same thing?

I think Patrick put it best when he said Should the guy get in trouble for this display? Absolutely not. Should everyone who was disturbed by the display tell him he’s a jackass? Absolutely.

All of which leads me to a lovely moment in the House of Commons here in my own country. As most of you no doubt know, many international leaders were recently at the Asia Pacific Summit.

As you might know, it’s the tradition for the leaders to pose in the dress of the hosting country.

Of course, that didn’t stop our interim Liberal party leader for taking a shot at our nation’s leader. Prime Minister Stephen Harper and interim Liberal leader Bill Graham traded barbs over the recent Asia Pacific Summit and the best place to wear a silk gown. It started by Graham kidding the prime minister about the blue gown he wore for a photo op in Vietnam, telling Harper he "looked spectacular."

But wait. It gets better. The prime minister shot back that wearing local garb is a tradition at the APEC summit and that unlike Graham, he was wears his "silk on the outside."

Kudos Stephen. I mean, damn, talk about hitting a man below the belt. Personally, I think Graham deserved it. Stephen Harper went to an international summit. There is a tradition. He respected the tradition, along with all the other world leaders there.

Is this really what we pay these yahoos to fight over in parliament? I mean, is there nothing wrong with the world… I don’t know, maybe environment issues, the homeless, aids in Africa… something pertinent Mr. Graham could invest his energy in? Last I heard we still lived in a flawed world.

So, here I am, wanting to curtail free speech again. Because I really really really wanted to tell Mr. Graham to put a sock in it, and by that I didn’t mean his silk shorts.

But what’s really interesting is that if you read the article, our PM makes a joke that goes to curtailing freedom of the press.

And that touches on things I think about how media has changed, lost focus and credibility. I mean, why should the media have any interest in a spat over our PM following international protocol? WTF? Yet days after the fact it’s still being discussed, so here I am, continuing the trend. Things Daniel Hatadi referred to in the comments here yesterday tie in: “There are far more offensive things happening in the world that most people wouldn't even contemplate trying to stop: it's just too frightening. What's offended me of late is the conversion of reputable Australian newspapers into trashy celebrity mags. It's like nothing is valid until there's a large amount of money or good looking people attached to it.”

And Vincent added a great comment, about the current situation in the UK. “A Muslim teaching assistant was suspended for wearing the veil, a British Airways employee was suspended for openly wearing the cross. I agree with Bill in that right and wrong, good and evil is never a clear cut distinction, but the curious thing for me is how symbols are given such significance. Nazi uniforms didn't attempt genocide, the people inside them did, people very much like those who attempted genocide in Bosnia, Rwanda or Darfur. Yet this symbol and others are attached with such significance that their expression is at risk of becoming as much of a media issue as the behaviours and ideologies they're associated with.”

Which ties right in with a news story from yesterday that’s being buried in the press. I had to dig to find it online but saw coverage on TV yesterday, including an interview with one of them men, who claims they were removed from a flight because they were praying.

I completely agree with the sentiment that Nazi uniforms didn’t commit atrocities – people commit atrocities. Yet we can’t deny what some things represent and what there associations are. I can’t even deny that, to some people (particularly in the US) being on a flight with Muslims engaging in their prayer ritual could be a bit disconcerting. I’ve been to a Muslim country, and flown on a Muslim airline, so I’m leaning way more on the side of taking offense that this flight was delayed and these men were removed and questioned, just because they were praying.

The question remains. At what point should we ever allow freedoms to be curtailed?

What if I came on here and said, “Bill Graham (because I haven’t picked on the interim Liberal leader enough today) is a pedophile.” I have no proof. I have no photos, emails, video to support it.

I just say it.

I can be charged with slander.

So what is it that makes that different then just exercising my right to free speech? We say I’m just being silly or just trying to make a point, but what if I completely believe it?

Okay, I’m not German. My German blood runs very thin – less than 5%. But what if you called someone German a Nazi today? The consequences could be extreme. I can imagine it being the kind of thing the media would catch on to.

But I can also imagine people believing it.

What if Charlie Palmer, the man who owned the hardware store that was decorated with Gingerbread Nazis, was part German?

Would that change how people felt about what the artist did?

I have a real problem, in that I’m one of those people that always wants to prove the point. I do not like leaving misunderstandings hanging or people having the wrong impression about something. Yet there have been a lot of times when I’ve born the brunt of a situation and had to learn to walk away and let it go. I’ve lost friends over it. To this day I find it baffling that anyone doesn’t have something better to do than gossip about me.

Should gossip fall under the same right as freedom of speech?

A few weeks ago I was offended by inferences that were drawn from an interview involving Ian Rankin. And I’m sure a great number of people thought, Yeah, but you’re such a Rankin fan, of course you’d defend him.

It wasn’t just because I was a Rankin fan. It wasn’t even because of what I knew but couldn’t say. It was because the insertion of these words, "he looks nervously at my tape recorder, but continues regardless, going public about one of the great unsaids among crime writers" into the quote changed the manner in which his statement was interpreted. People asserted that he was anti-lesbian as a result, something I abolutely know is not true.

And if offends me when someone spreads falsehoods about someone I know.

I did the exact same thing when an author accused the ITW of sexism months ago. I was not a member of the ITW. I was not attending Thrillerfest. But I was offended by the fact that someone leveled serious charges against them without a shred of evidence, or without even asking the ITW for comment or why it was only men were nominated for the awards last year.

And it still pisses me off. Why? For one simple reason. This year, those judges will all think carefully about trying to find women to put on ballots. Oh, maybe not consciously. But it will be there. If the nominations lists come in with only male names, I doubt they’ll be put forward that way. And not because the ITW doesn’t have credibility. Because the reckless accusations of one person, hiding behind their right to free speech, have made it impossible for the process to be untainted for fear of scandal.

It’s sad.

And at some point, I think people do have to take responsibility.

EvilKev added to the comments from yesterday:

“I think the right to free speech has been eroded a great deal by the political correctness and a fear of offending anyone. The measure in law is how a "reasonable man" would act or respond in a situation. Now it is how the most over-sensitive person would respond. Freedom of speech can cause discomfort, but a different opinion should not be censored. But at the same time, I think to often the same people who invoke the free speech defense too often abuse it. Freedoms are not free, but have costs and responsibilities. All freedoms are based off the principle of fundamental respect for other people and the tolerance to allow them to live without persecution. I can’t stand on the street yelling racist remarks and claim free speech. My actions violate the greater principle. As far as the cookies go, they are just cookies. But by the same token, why Nazis? This is a powerful symbol that almost everyone recognizes. To inflame and call it free speech is a very dangerous thing, Ask the cartoonists who created those cartoons that defiled Muhammad. Their free speech cost some people their lives. When an artist chooses an inflammatory topic, I feel they must defend their choice and why that choice was the only valid one they could use to make their point. Why not CIA cookies or North Korean Leader cookies? A freedom as noble as free speech should never be used as a publicity stunt.”

He raises some good points too.

I’m going to make a confession here, and I hope it won’t offend people. People know I have a lot of issues with the church. I certainly have issues with a number of evangelicals I know. But I have serious issues with Catholicism. The Ruttan’s were Huguenots, this is true. My Grandmother was Irish Catholic but my Grandfather was an Orangeman.

And I was raised an atheist.

So I don’t automatically defer to respecting someone because of their religion, or beliefs, or their role. I’ve been to the Vatican. You don’t really want to hear my opinion of the opulence. You don’t want to hear me talk about how unscriptural I think that is. You don’t want to hear me rant about how sick it is that there are those in the church (Catholic and Protestant alike) who use their position to harness wealth for themselves while people live in destitution.

There’s a lot for us artists to think about. About where our responsibilities begin and end.

For me, the best thing is not having fixed answers. Because for me, it means I’m always keeping an open mind. There is nothing to be feared in asking healthy questions, other than addressing them to a person who shuts their eyes and closes their ears and refuses to consider that things could be any different than the way they see it.

A Joke For Your Wednesday... Which is kind of appropriate to topic. But not PC.

A successful rancher died and left everything to his devoted wife. She was determined to keep the ranch, but knew very little about ranching, so she placed an ad in the newspaper for a ranch hand.

Two cowboys applied for the job. One was gay and the other a drunk. She thought long and hard about it, and when no one else applied she decided to hire the gay guy, figuring it would be safer to have him around the house than the drunk.

He proved to be a hard worker who put in long hours every day and knew a lot about ranching. For weeks the two of them worked hard and the ranch was doing very well.

Then one day, the rancher's widow said "You have done a really good job, and the ranch looks great. You should go into town and kick up your heels."

The hired hand readily agreed and went into town on
Saturday night.

He returned around 2:30am, and upon entering the room, he found the rancher's widow sitting by the fireplace with a glass of wine, waiting for him.

She quietly called him over to her.

"Unbutton my blouse and take it off," she said.
Trembling, he did as she directed.

"Now take off my boots." He did as she asked, ever so slowly.

"Now take off my socks." He removed each gently and placed them neatly by her boots.

"Now take off my skirt." He slowly unbuttoned it, constantly watching her eyes in the fire light.

"Now take off my bra." Again, with trembling hands did as he was told and dropped it to the floor.

Then she looked at him and said: "If you ever wear my clothes into town again, you're fired!"


James Goodman said...

tell Mr. Graham to put a sock in it, and by that I didn’t mean his silk shorts.

Wait...I'm unclear. Did you mean put silk shorts in his mouth instead of socks or did you mean stick the socks in his silk shorts? :D

Sandra Ruttan said...

LOL James.

I think you know exactly what I meant. I'm too much of a lady to elaborate. ;)

Lisa Hunter said...

We need to be clear what we mean by censorship here. Lots of people mis-use the word. Censorship, technically, means that the government is forbidding someone to say something freely. Stockholders, viewers, readers, and the general public protesting or boycotting until someone is effectively silenced isn't censorship, even if it seems that way to the one who's being hushed.

Sandra Ruttan said...

You raise an interesting point Lisa, about censorship. Everyone hails the rights to free speech. Yet, if we go with the bastardized versions on it, we all practice some degree of censorship. Young children aren't allowed to swear. Or talk about siblings rudely or be disrespectful to their parents.

Is that 100% justifiable? What if a child's parent is a drunk? Is it okay for the child to call them a drunk? They're being truthful. Perhaps disrespectful...but perhaps the parent isn't worthy of their respect.

I think if you start dissecting some of the arguments people used to justify gingerbread nazis yesterday, you run up against these counter points. We're all hypocrites to some degree, I guess.

Interesting stuff to think about.

John McFetridge said...

I like to think I'm not usually this anal, but I've been looking up dictionary definitions of censorship and I get this:

Main Entry: cen·sor·ship
Pronunciation: 'sen(t)-s&r-"ship
Function: noun
1 a : the institution, system, or practice of censoring b : the actions or practices of censors; especially : censorial control exercised repressively
2 : the office, power, or term of a Roman censor.

So, I guess if you're in ancient Rome it's the government, but otherwise it seems like it's anybody.

One blogger said that the meaning of censorship has become so loose it's meaningless.

But as Lisa says, to the people being silenced it doesn't really make any difference. Except that governments come and go (and theoretically, anyway, represent all of us) and stockholders, viewers, readers and so on speak only for themselves.

What was that line, something about I hate what you have to say, but I'll defend to the death your right to say it? Poor old Voltaire.

The "fine line" doesn't seem so fine - it's when the talking stops and the action starts.

And the Tories have been saying Bill Graham is gay for years. He keeps trying to tell them, "metrosexual, metrosexual..."

JamesO said...

The freedom to express oneself without fear of reprisal is something we take too much for granted in the west. Personally I go with Voltaire, but with the added question: would you do the same for me?

The case of the Muslims being removed from the flight is an interesting, if slightly different point - the freedom to pursue one's religious beliefs and practices, and it's getting a bit of an airing in the press right now.

I've not followed the story closely - as you say it's been ignored by a lot of the press - but one thing strikes me as worth commenting. These passengers, immams on their way back from a conference, went through their evening prayer ritual in the waiting lounge at the airport. Now it is their absolute right to do so, and, as Voltaire would probably not have said, I would defend their right to do so (though perhaps not to the death.) But before they rolled out their prayer mats and turned towards Mecca, did they for one moment stop and think about the effect their actions might have had on the largely non-muslim crowd of passengers also awaiting their flights in the airport that evening? The crowd fed a daily diet of terror stories on the news about mad mullahs and suicide bombers? Did they look, or even ask, for a quiet room where they might observe their religious obligations?

From the reporting (and I will be the first to admit I wasn't there to see for myself) it seems that these clerics had no thought, and no respect, for the feelings of those around them. The only thing of importance to them was to pray. Everyone else could go hang.

I'm not saying they got what they deserved - that's not my point at all. The near-hysterical reaction of some people to the thought of sharing an enclosed space with a bearded man is a separate problem, and the behaviour of the authorities when dealing with difficult situations leaves much to be desired.

What I am trying to say is that the world would be a lot better place if people thought a little more about their actions, and the consequences of those actions for other people.

That's what 'manners' are

Sandra Ruttan said...

And the Tories have been saying Bill Graham is gay for years. He keeps trying to tell them, "metrosexual, metrosexual..."

LHM John! I can just see this. My blog's been picked up by news services before. There will be a headline tomorrow, Bill Graham: Metrosexual or Just Misunderstood?

Now James, that's a good point, about manners. One would like to think that everyone would act with some measure of consideration for others. If we all showed such consideration we'd have far fewer problems in this world.

Unfortunately I doubt that will be the reality any time soon.

SAND STORM said...

Thanks for the mention Sandra and an interesting post with much to contemplate.

Bonnie Calhoun said...

Oh...oh....that joke was great! Darn...I can't grab that one!

Amra Pajalic said...

Jameso-my original reaction was to be offended by remarks about the imans being insensitive by praying, then I thought about how I feel when people talk about religion etc. It's not something I want to be subjected to. So yes I agree with you. My question is-does the airline have anywhere for people to pray privately? Not many public places do these days.

JamesO said...

Amra, if I remember right, most UK airports have non-denominational 'chapels' or quiet rooms where people can pray before entrusting their lives to the air. I don't know if the US is as enlightened.

And of course, in an ideal world, immams would be able to pray wheresoever they chose without anyone noticing or commenting or feeling threatened or embarrassed. They shouldn't need to consider the effect of their act of praying on other people. Sadly, we live in a world where people claiming to be Muslims blow themselves up in crowded places and fly planes into buildings, and so I would suggest true Muslims need to be a little more thoughtful when interacting with a mixed- or no-faith society.

Sandra Ruttan said...

I don't think there are prayer rooms here, James. And one thing about the way they have these terminals is that sometimes you're so far down and away from anything, including bathrooms. If you're past the time you've been ordered to your gate you aren't supposed to leave, and sometimes you're ordered to your gate long before you need to be there.